In 2020, women accounted for just 24% of the core STEM workforce. A recent report by WISE stated that women occupy just 16% of tech roles.
However, the divides in STEM do not just link to gender. Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, and in particular BAME women, are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields across both education and the workforce.
BAME Women in STEM Statistics
Black and ethnic minority workers make up 12% of the UK workforce. The employment rate for ethnic minorities in the UK is only 62.8% compared with an employment rate for White workers of 75.6%, according to McGregor-Smith Review.
According to BBSTEM, just 6.2% of UK domicile students enrolled onto STEM-related subjects at UK universities are black (4.8% Black African, 1.2% Black Caribbean, 0.2% Black Other).
When we look at figures for high-level employees, the representation of BAME women is vastly worrying. Within the top tech firms in the UK, over 70% of boards and senior executive teams do not have a BAME member; in fact, women of BAME backgrounds only make up around 2% of boards and senior executive teams.
When we look at the engineering sector, a 2018 Engineering UK report found that only 8.1% of men and women working in engineering were from BAME groups, with BAME women only comprising less than 2% of all engineering professionals.
There is clear evidence of a leaky pipeline and poor retention for BAME women in top-level jobs within STEM industries.
For example, a report by BCS revealed that female and BAME individuals were less likely to have roles of responsibility, despite having a higher level of education than other groups. In 2019, 9% of BAME IT specialists were director level, and 32% of BAME IT specialists were managers or team leaders, whereas white IT professionals made up 43%. When we look at qualifications, 85% of BAME IT professionals obtained a degree or higher education qualification, opposed to only 66% of IT specialists from white ethnic groups. In 2019, women made up just 13% of IT directors across the UK on average.
In other industries like manufacturing, we see a similar disparity. In 2019, an average of just 12% of IT specialists in the manufacturing sector were women, 10% were disabled and just 8% were BAME.
In sciences, this theme is continued, with women and BAME individuals having a lack of representation in decision-making positions. Studies have shown that women make up around 50% or more of undergraduate level in life sciences, however women only hold around 20% of senior positions. When we look at BAME women in these positions – associate professors and above- the numbers are even more dismal.
The importance of diversity in STEM
Despite the evidence that shows diverse teams increase innovation, productivity and revenue, there are clearly still vast imbalances in the UK STEM workforce. In technology in particular, the lack of women from BAME backgrounds is worrying when the use of technology in our everyday lives has increased rapidly due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Diverse teams in technology are vital to ensuring that new tech is fit for purpose and inclusive to the multicultural population. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased use of technology due to lockdowns and home working. It’s never been more important to ensure that this tech is being developed by people from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Amali de Alwis, UK Managing Director of Microsoft for Startups highlights her disappointment at the pace of change in technology for BAME women.
“As businesses, including Microsoft, and entrepreneurs, we must do better,” she said. “Less than one in five of UK technology workers is a woman or from a BAME background. One in five is over 50, and only one in 10 has a disability. This simply isn’t representative of the talent we could have available to make our organisations stronger. We should take these findings as shining a light on where there are opportunities to create a more representative workforce, and give ourselves the best foundations for inclusive future growth.”
Why are BAME Women not choosing STEM?
There are a number of reasons why BAME women are not choosing to start, or remain in jobs with the STEM industries. These can include both psychological factors and external environmental variables, such as experiences with mentors, academic mindsets, attitudes towards STEM and family background characteristics.
Mara-Tafadzwa Makoni, the spokeswoman for the UK’s Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers also believes it is down to a lack of representation and visibility.
“This applies in technical roles and even more so when it comes to women in leadership positions in engineering firms.” As a result, she says, “there are too few women to act as champions and mentors to younger women.”
Having inspirational role models, allies or mentors can have a hugely positive impact on BAME women in STEM, increasing their sense of belonging. Having BAME women in positions that can influence leaderships and decisions, who are also visible externally can help young BAME women to picture themselves in these positions.
The importance of belonging is supported by research conducted by the STEM Education Journal, which states “gender and ethnicity can impact feelings of acceptance, with students from underrepresented groups reporting more uncertainty about whether they belong in their academic fields than students from well-represented demographic groups.”
The report continues to explain that feelings of belonging and interest in STEM contributes to a student’s ‘STEM identity’, or how they believe that STEM is a key component of themselves. According to the STEM Education Journal, “Feeling a greater sense of belonging in STEM can have a positive impact on academic achievement and retention in STEM, particularly for women and students of color.”
We know that one way for BAME women to feel like they belong is representation. Women and men form gender roles in childhood, which is largely based in exposure to popular culture and the media. Many have argued that representation in the media portrays men and women in ‘traditional’ roles, which has a negative impact on the STEM career choices young BAME women make.
If young women had more exposure to ethically diverse STEM professionals through the media, including social media, perhaps it could support and encourage underrepresented students to pursue STEM.
At STEM Women we are passionate about addressing the diversity imbalance in STEM industries. We host regular graduate careers events for students and graduate who identify as female that aim to work towards bridging the diversity gap in STEM industries.
Our events help young women to ‘see themselves’ in these career paths by having the chance to listen to inspiring talks from real women working in STEM, chat to representatives from top employers and learn more about the industry.
We believe that by increasing the exposure young women have to strong role models in STEM, it will help them to have the confidence to pursue careers in this exciting industry.
For more information about our upcoming events, visit stemwomenevents.com.